I've spent the last 11 years wondering how to teach my two daughters that they are enough, that they have worth and that we love them. Chances are you've thought a lot about this too.
One question I constantly ask myself: How do I raise children who are a light, who love and do good, in a world full of so much that is dark?
Your daughter needs you to actively help her discover who she is while she's still young. The years fly by and suddenly she will spread her wings and fly, while we all wonder when she grew up.
For me and my family, I've learned that you can actively shape your daughter by doing things together. These 12 things give you as parents the opportunity to spend time together and connect with their daughters. They also provide teaching opportunities in a safe, natural and loving way (a great alternative to parent nagging!).
1. Let the Pokey Little Puppy work its magic
My mother often read to me as a child, and I developed a great love for books and learning. (Somewhere there's even a picture of me reading to my beloved Care Bear.)
Reading with my mom helped me feel loved, made me a better student and gave me the desire to read to my children so they can have the same benefits. She did all this simply by reading me the little book, "The Pokey Little Puppy."
2. Make a recipe together
After being a mom, my day job (and often into-the-night-job) is as the creator and writer on the Oh, Sweet Basil food blog. Food is my passion because it's tasty, but also because of what cooking has taught me about life. Cooking together helps kids better understand math and science. Even something as simple as using a 1/4 cup twice to measure out 1/2 cup of flour helps a child understand fractions.
But even more than that, cooking with your daughter makes her feel important. It teaches her how to take charge of what she puts into her body, and how to budget. It helps her know it's ok to make mistakes. If dinner turns out awful, let her see you laugh. Then show her how to get back up again by whipping up some pancakes or going for take out.
Most important of all, cooking together makes communicating easier. Many children report that school was fine, but when you're cooking together, everyone loosens up and shares things of the heart.
3. Make Mother Nature her friend
There is an indescribable peace that is only found in nature. Give your daughter the gift of fresh air, a brief bit of life without distractions and the realization of just how small she is compared to everything else.
Teach her what peace feels like. Once she can recognize it, she'll search it out in her own life.
4. Enjoy the arts together
Every Christmas my mom took me and my sisters to see the Nutcracker ballet. I loved every second of that beautiful ballet and I've kept that tradition up with my own daughters. (Just look at that happy, chocolate covered face! She slept through the whole ballet and still said it was the best night ever.)
By giving girls good, uplifting experiences, they learn to appreciate creating and experiencing art. Give them challenges to try fun art projects and show them that their hard work and practice can pay off big time.
5. Cry together
Crying is not a sign of weakness. It means you can understand your feelings and can feel empathy for others.
Let your daughter know that moms cry too, and it's ok. Sharing tender moments will create a more open relationship. Talking doesn't even have to happen, just let yourself be vulnerable.
6. Visit your alma mater
This is the house I lived in my first year of college. I first knew I would go to college when my parents took me to their alma mater. Seeing where they met, the experiences they had in college and the life they had only because they attended college empowered me. I want to share the same thing with my daughter.
If you didn't go to college, or don't have the resources to visit, take them to a local university. Tell them they deserve it, and you will help them get there.
7. Have an overnighter
One of my best memories is a week at a summer camp for girls where my mother was a leader. I saw her love and lead. I got her all to myself, and learned who she was outside of being a mother.
You don't even have to leave your house for this. Send your spouse away with the other kids, or take a whole day to be alone with her. Be together without any distractions. I needed to see my mother outside of her asking: "Have you finished your homework?" Your daughter needs this too. You are not here to be her best friend, but you are here to love her. Sometimes you must step away for her to see that.
8. Make a mailbox
When I was in high school my mother gave me a letter with a special trinket as a Christmas gift. In that letter she told me her deepest feelings for me. I could read it over and over again.
This experience sparked the idea to use a small box as a mailbox in my room and our daughter's room. We leave each other uplifting or apology notes. My daughter asks important questions she may not feel comfortable doing face-to-face and she even asks for advice in the letters. It's a safe and private way to communicate on top of face-to-face conversations.
9. Create a tradition
I love variety. I make new dinners and desserts all the time. At one point I noticed my husband and the girls were making crepes every single Saturday morning, and I got a little ornery about it.
My husband, being the good man he is, pulled me aside and said, "One day our daughters will not care to be with their dad anymore. There will be bigger, better things and more interesting people. I need this tradition to help them know that I love them and that home is where they can always return to. It will be a tradition that helps us to have time together."
Wise words from a gentle man. Create traditions together.
10. Do a challenging NEW activity together
It's important for your children to see you do something you're good at, as well as things that are a little more challenging for you. Take an art, cooking or acting class. Play a sport you don't usually play. Have fun doing something new. As an adult it's important to know how to try new things, get out and meet people and have successes and failures!
11. Find someone to serve
This is a really, really big deal in our house. We keep a box full of dollar bills, window markers and craft items so we can do random acts of kindness. It creates unity, teaches compassion and helps your daughter be mindful of others. Teach her it's our duty in life to care for humanity.
As a young girl I remember giving up a Christmas gift so my parents could give gifts to a family in need. My parents were always looking for ways to help others and made sure to help as best they could. I am who I am today because of service and I hope our girls will continue the tradition.
12. Work together
Growing up, family chores involved cleaning, doing laundry, yard work and tending the garden. My parents turned on music, sang silly songs with us and told stories while we worked together. Teach your children the sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. Teach them that work brings things to be. Then, when she's faced with the work of life, she'll be equipped to tackle it.
And you know what? Working together is always better than doing things alone. You learn to be a team, communicate and solve problems. Working together teaches her to care for her surroundings. When we clean and do laundry we show respect for the things we have so that they will last longer.
I don't know what the future has in store for my daughters, but I do know that we will tackle things together, because I have shown them their whole lives that they can do it, that they matter and that there is joy in the journey.
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